Love in Winter Wonderland by Abiola Bello

Publisher: Soho Press, Soho Teen

Date of publication: October 3rd, 2023

Genre: Romance, Christmas, Holiday, Young Adult, Contemporary, Young Adult Romance, Contemporary Romance, Fiction, African American Romance

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

‘The Sun Is Also a Star’ meets ‘You’ve Got Mail’ in this YA Christmas love story set in a London Black-owned bookshop.

Charming, handsome Trey Anderson balances the pressures of school popularity with a job at his family’s beloved local bookshop, Wonderland.

Quirky, creative Ariel Spencer needs tuition for the prestigious art program of her dreams, and an opening at Wonderland is the answer. When Trey and Ariel learn that Wonderland is on the brink of being shut down by a neighborhood gentrifier, they team up to stop the doors from closing before the Christmas Eve deadline—and embark on a hate-to-love journey that will change them forever.

Heartwarming and romantic, this read is the gift that keeps on giving, no matter the season.

First Line:

I’m about two seconds away from committing murder.

Love in Winter Wonderland by Abiola Bello

Important things you need to know about the book:

Love in Winter Wonderland is a medium to fast-paced book. The book starts fast, slows down around the middle of the book, speeds back up, and then slows down for the ending. I had no issues with the pacing of the book. It allowed me to digest some things that the author brought up and discussed. There was some lag in the middle (right around Trey’s shop party for Blair), but it didn’t affect how I liked the book.

There are trigger warnings in Love in Winter Wonderland. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Alcohol: Trey and Ariel underage drink throughout the book (in England, the legal drinking age is 18; both are shy of 18). Trey drinks until he is blackout drunk during Blair’s second birthday party.
  • Anxiety: Ariel suffers from anxiety due to bullying. Trey and his mother suffer from anxiety over the bookshop closing down.
  • Bullying: Ariel is bullied throughout the book by Blair and Bebe. She is bullied because of her weight, her painting (her hands are usually covered in paint), and her friendship with Trey. It is painful to read because, until almost the end of the book, Ariel doesn’t say anything back to them and internalizes everything.
  • Cancer: Ariel’s father passes from cancer before the book starts.
  • Cheating: I went back and forth on including this and eventually decided to include it. Trey emotionally cheats on Blair with Ariel. It never gets physical but emotional; he’s all in. Ariel discourages it at first but then gives in to it. Trey’s friends (including Blair’s sister) encourage his relationship with Ariel, which I found weird.
  • Death: Ariel’s father died from cancer earlier in the year.
  • Depression: Ariel’s mother suffered from a deep depression after Ariel’s father died. But she has come out of it by the time the book starts.
  • Eating Disorder: Ariel binge eats during the book. It is mentioned that she had an issue with binge eating and worked to keep her compulsion to do so under control.
  • Fat shaming: Blair and Bebe bully Ariel over her weight. Blair because she is insecure over Ariel’s relationship with Trey and Bebe because, well, Bebe is a colossal jerk.
  • Grief: Ariel is grieving the death of her father throughout the book.
  • Gentrification: Wonderland is a Black-owned business in an area that is in the process of being gentrified. Trey mentions that the area used to have multiple small businesses owned by different cultures that white developers were buying out. These white developers are looking to buy Wonderland, so Trey decides to save his family’s bookshop.

Sexual Content: There is sexual content in Love in Winter Wonderland. It mainly centers around Trey and Blair. There is a nongraphic sex scene, where Blair shows Trey her boobs (after he spends the night with her), scenes where they kiss, and one scene where Blair strips to her underwear and attempts to have sex with Trey. There are also a couple of near-miss kiss scenes between Ariel and Trey.

Language: There is a lot of language in Love in Winter Wonderland. There is swearing. There is also language centered around bullying.

Setting: Love in Winter Wonderland is set entirely in Hackney, England. Hackney is a borough of London. The author does a great job of describing Hackney and its community. She made it to a place that I would love to visit. I would also love to visit Wonderland!!

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

Trey hates working in his family’s bookstore, Wonderland. He doesn’t want to run it. Instead, he wants to be a singer. But his thinking changes when two things happen. First, his mother tells him that Wonderland is on the verge of closing and is considering a developer’s offer to buy it out. The second, Trey’s father falls and breaks his leg. The shop becomes his responsibility and, soon, his passion. He would do anything to save Wonderland.

Ariel is a quirky, shy artist who has known Trey from afar for years. When she gets invited to apply to the same art program her father attended, Ariel knows she needs a part-time job to cover the tuition. So, when the job at Wonderland falls in her lap, Ariel accepts. She becomes deeply involved in Trey’s plans to save Wonderland. But, with a monetary amount that is staggering (50,000 pounds) and a two-week time limit, she needs to think fast. What Ariel doesn’t take into consideration is her developing feelings for Trey. As the Christmas Eve deadline looms and the developers become brazen in their attempt to buy Wonderland, Ariel wonders if they will make it. She also wonders if her heart will survive working so close with Trey. Can Trey and Ariel save Wonderland? Will Trey realize that Ariel is the girl for him? Or will he miss his opportunity?

Main Characters:

Trey Anderson: I didn’t like Trey when the book first started. But his character growth throughout the book was terrific. He went from being a slightly self-involved kid only interested in his needs to this fantastic young man who wanted to save his family’s legacy. My only quibble with him was that he strung Blair and Ariel along. It wasn’t intentional, but he did it. And his treatment of Ariel when she missed the interview was awful, considering who was behind her missing the interview and how it happened.

Ariel Spencer: I loved her. Her character growth over the book was similar to Trey’s. I liked that she finally told Bebe and Blair what she thought of them. Of course, not before being put through hell by them. I loved her strong and supportive friend base (Annika and Jolie were her true ride-and-die friends). My only quibble with her is that she kept letting Trey in, and he kept hurting her. I wondered how the future would be for both of them.

Secondary characters:

Each of the secondary characters was great. They were just as fleshed out as Trey and Ariel. Of course, some of them did get what was coming to them. Others were great as the supportive best friends or parents. The main secondary characters are:

Trey’s parents and younger brother (Clive, Mrs. Anderson, Roen), Trey’s best friend (Dre Denton aka Boogs), Boogs girlfriend (Santi Bailey), Santi’s identical twin sister and Trey’s girlfriend (Blair Bailey), Bebe Richards (Ariel’s bully, Blair’s frenemy, and Annika’s cousin), Noah Spencer (Ariel’s younger brother), Annika (Ariel’s best friend), and Jolie (Ariel’s other best friend).

My review:

Love in Winter Wonderland is a well-written book focused on Trey and Ariel’s budding relationship and Trey and Ariel trying to save Wonderland, Trey’s family bookstore. This book touches on numerous subjects, from bullying to gentrification. The author did it in a way that it didn’t feel forced down your throat, and you wanted Trey and Ariel to succeed.

The storyline centers around Trey, Ariel, and their rush to save Wonderland. I liked that it was written realistically. Trey tried raising the money without the internet before listening to Ariel and posting about the shop’s plight. And, it took traction. I liked that while I knew it was a foregone conclusion that Ariel and Trey would save the shop, the author didn’t cement that idea at the end of the book. I also liked that Trey’s father slowly realized that he needed to modernize how he sold books. If Trey’s father wanted his business to survive, his store had to compete with the boxcutter bookstore down the street. It was painful to read, but I am glad he finally saw the writing on the wall.

The storyline centered around Trey and Ariel, and their relationship was cute. I liked seeing how they went from frenemies to friends to something more. But I wasn’t a huge fan of Trey cheating on his girlfriend. I want to clarify that he was emotionally cheating (he checked out of their relationship emotionally right after Ariel started working at the shop, so 3-4 chapters into the book). That aside, I loved the back-and-forth and the banter that Trey and Ariel had. Of course, they ran into issues (that pesky girlfriend), but they overcame them by being open with each other.

The end of Love in Winter Wonderland was what I expected. I did like how the author wrapped everything up. I also liked how she left it as happy for right now instead of a happily ever after. And the author’s note broke my heart. Before I forget, the author also does include a playlist for the book. At the beginning of each chapter (be it Ariel or Trey), she had a Christmas song sung by Black artists. I wrote each one down so I could listen to them (and yes, Mariah is featured).

Many thanks to Soho Press, Soho Teen, NetGalley, and Abiola Bello for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Love in Winter Wonderland. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Love in Winter Wonderland, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Abiola Bello:

Thank You for Sharing by Rachel Runya Katz

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin

Date of publication: September 12th, 2023

Genre: Romance, Contemporary Romance, Jewish, Contemporary, Adult, Fiction, LGBT, Queer, Adult Fiction, New Adult

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

Daniel Rosenberg and Liyah Cohen-Jackson’s last conversation—fourteen years ago at summer camp—ended their friendship. Until they find themselves seated next to each other on a plane, and bitterly pick up right where they left off. At least they can go their separate ways again after landing…

That is, until Daniel’s marketing firm gets hired by the Chicago museum where Liyah works as a junior curator, and they’re forced to collaborate with potential career changing promotions on the line.

With every meeting and post-work social gathering with colleagues, the tension (and chemistry) between Daniel and Liyah builds until they’re forced to confront why they broke apart years ago at camp. But as they find comfort in their shared experiences as Jews of color and fumble towards friendship, can they ignore their growing feelings for each other?

With sexy charm and undeniable wit, Rachel Runya Katz’s sparkling debut, Thank You For Sharing, proves that if you’re open to love, anything is possible.

First Line:

“Cohen-Jackson, huh? That’s quite the odd combo.”

Thank You for Sharing by Rachel Runya Katz

Liyah Cohen-Jackson and Daniel Rosenberg hadn’t talked in fourteen years after a disastrous summer camp romance ended. So, imagine Liyah’s surprise when she sits beside Daniel on a flight home from San Fransisco. Thinking the flight will be the last she sees of him, Liyah is surprised when Daniel is the representative chosen to meet with Liyah to help market her new exhibit. Forced to confront what happened in summer camp, Liyah and Daniel discover they have much in common. The more time they spend together, the more their chemistry grows. But will they stay just friends, or will they step towards being something else?

When I read the blurb for Thank You for Sharing, the blurb caught my attention for several reasons. One, because this was the second book that I had read the blurb for that featured the Jewish religion or had references to it, and both main characters were people of color who were Jewish. The other was that it was billed as an LGBTQIA+ book. So, with these reasons in mind, I downloaded Thank You for Sharing. I am glad I did because this was a sweet romance.

The main storyline in Thank You for Sharing centers around Liyah, Daniel, their friends (and their friends were a significant part of the storyline), and their personal/work relationship. The storyline was well written. It kept my attention, and I couldn’t put the book down.

Liyah did a lot of growing up in Thank You for Sharing. In the beginning, she was a stress ball who held on to grudges and slights like they were lifelines. I thought she was immature and obnoxious during her scenes with Daniel. But, the more she interacted with Daniel and the more was revealed about what happened fourteen years ago, I didn’t blame her for being mad. Without giving away spoilers, she was right. Men (and boys) are continually celebrated for stuff like Daniel did, while women (and girls) are shunned and called names. I liked how she dealt with the casual racism and sexism throughout the book. Some scenes (like the one in the Temple) had me steaming. By the end of Thank You for Sharing, I liked her. She had morphed into a strong woman who wasn’t afraid to admit she was wrong.

Daniel was everything that any woman would want in a boyfriend. He liked to talk about his feelings. Daniel supported his partner and wanted the best for her, even if that meant putting himself first. He was in touch with his emotions and wasn’t afraid to cry. Daniel also admitted when he needed help (his mental health suffered a blow after his father died). I did think he was a bit of a sadist for dealing with Liyah. But I also saw that being around her pulled him out of his depression and made him want to be a better man. I also liked his tattoo (the reason behind it was funny).

Mental health is brought up quite a bit throughout Thank You for Sharing. Both Daniel and Liyah see therapists. Daniel starts seeing one to help get over his father’s death. Liyah sees one because of a highly traumatic incident in college and has continued to see her over the years. Both therapists had great advice and let Daniel and Liyah come to terms with their trauma independently. But, I did like that Liyah’s therapist wasn’t afraid to push back at Liyah (the scene after Liyah confesses to Daniel about what happened to her).

The secondary characters made the book. Siobhan, Jordan, Alex, and Neen were excellent. I liked the club they all formed (with Neen being an honorary member). I loved the notes at the end of the “meetings.” They were freaking hilarious. While here, I want to add that I loved Neen. They were the best friend that Liyah needed. They were not afraid to tell it as it was, and they weren’t afraid to force Liyah to face the truth about things (i.e., Daniel).

I liked the romance angle, but it was predictable. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing—sometimes, you need things to be predictable. But I loved reading how the author had Liyah and Daniel go from enemies to lovers. It wasn’t an Instalove situation; instead, it took several months and a couple of profound apologies from Daniel for them to get to that point.

Now, Liyah and Daniel did have some serious chemistry. It was electric, and I was on pins and needles, waiting for them to sleep together. That sex scene was one of the best sex scenes I have read to date. It wasn’t too graphic, and the feeling behind it was chef’s kiss. There were other sex scenes, but they didn’t have the amazingness of the first one.

The end of Thank You for Sharing was your typical HEA. I loved that Neen told Liyah to get over herself. That made for a fantastic makeup scene. I also loved that the author had an epilogue three years in the future.

I would recommend Thank You for Sharing to anyone over 21. There is language, mild violence, and sexual situations.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin, NetGalley, and Rachel Runya Katz for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Thank You for Sharing. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

In you enjoy reading books similar to Thank You for Sharing, then you will enjoy these:

Fly with Me by Andie Burke

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin

Date of publication: September 5th, 2023

Genre: Romance, LGBT, Contemporary, Lesbian, Queer, Adult, Fiction, Contemporary Romance, Adult Fiction, Lesbian Fiction

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

A sparkling and steamy opposites-attract romance, Fly with Me by Andie Burke is filled with sharp banter and that sweet, swooping feeling of finding “the one” when and where you least expect it.

A one-way ticket to love or a bumpy ride ahead?

Flying-phobic ER nurse Olive Murphy is still gripping the armrest from her first-ever take-off when the pilot announces an in-flight medical emergency. Olive leaps into action and saves a life, but ends up getting stuck in the airport hours away from the marathon she’s running in honor of her brother. Luckily for her, Stella Soriano, the stunning type A copilot, offers to give her a ride.

After the two spend a magical day together, Stella makes a surprising Will Olive be her fake girlfriend?

A video of Olive saving a life has gone viral and started generating big sales for Stella’s airline. Stella sees their union as the perfect opportunity to get to the boys’ club executives at her company who keep overlooking her for a long-deserved promotion. Realizing this arrangement could help her too, Olive dives into memorizing Stella’s comically comprehensive three-ring-binder guide to fake dating. As the two grow closer, what’s supposed to be a ruse feels more and more real. Could this be the romantic ride of their lives, or an epic crash and burn?

First Line:

“We’re not going to crash.”

Fly with Me by Andie Burke

Never having flown before, Olive is on the verge of a panic attack when a flight attendant makes an announcement asking for a medical professional. An ER nurse, she answers the call and saves the life of a man. When the video starts generating positive press for the airline, the co-piolet, Stella, approaches Olive with an arrangement. Olive is to pretend to be Stella’s girlfriend, and Stella can finally get a promotion. Surprisingly, Olive agrees and dives into Stella’s amusing three-ring binder guide to fake dating. But, as their feeling becomes more and more real, outside forces are trying to derail their romance. Will they have a happily ever after, or will they crash and burn?

When I read the blurb for Fly with Me, I was instantly intrigued and wanted to read it. Since St. Martin’s Press had it as a Read Now book, I downloaded it. I am glad that I did because I loved this book. This book is so much more than what is mentioned in the blurb.

The main storyline of Fly with Me centers around Olive, Stella, and their fake romance. I found that storyline to be amusing and heartbreaking. It was also well-written and kept me glued to the book. I was rooting for Olive and Stella. I wanted them to have their happily ever after.

The storyline with Olive, her family, and their fight over the care of her brother was heartbreaking. Olive’s brother was pronounced brain-dead after saving the life of a child. Olive, a nurse who controls her brother’s finances and medical decisions, had decided to pull life support. But her mother didn’t want it, got a lawyer, and fought to keep her brother alive. Meanwhile, she blasted Olive as someone who only wanted her brother’s money and wanted him to die so she could get it. It caused a massive rift in the family, with everyone agreeing with Olive’s mother. While I sympathized with Olive’s mother, I thought she was a nasty piece of work. There was nothing redeemable about her. As for Olive’s father, I thought that maybe he would be reasonable, but nope, he wasn’t. I was beyond angry at what he requested of Olive at the end of the book. I couldn’t believe what he told her not to do and how he treated her afterward.

The storyline with Olive, Lindsay, their on/off relationship, and Olive’s mental health was interesting. I thought that Lindsay was a piece of work. She was verbally abusive to Olive, and when Olive started fake dating Stella, she became a full-fledged stalker. Lindsay downplayed Olive’s anxiety disorder and her depression. What she said to Stella about them was vile. I should have seen what Lindsay did coming, but I didn’t. I wasn’t surprised, though. There were hints about what she was capable of throughout the book.

The romance angle of Fly with Me was sweet. Both Olive and Stella did not want a relationship. Olive was dealing with a crazy ex (Lindsay), and Stella was so career-driven that she didn’t have time for a relationship. But this book showed that falling in love often happens when people least want or need it. I loved watching their relationship progress. There were roadblocks (a major one at the end of the book), but I liked seeing Olive and Stella work through them.

Olive and Stella had immediate chemistry, which the author built on. So, when they finally had sex, the scene exploded. The author was also very stingy with the sex scenes (there were two detailed scenes).

The end of Fly with Me had me in tears, from everything that Olive had to endure with her family and Lindsay to what happened with her and Stella. I loved that Olive decided to get help with her mental health (minor spoiler here). The epilogue was perfect. The book couldn’t have ended on a better note.

I would recommend Fly with Me to anyone over 21. There is language, mild violence, and graphic sexual situations.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin, NetGalley, and Andie Burke for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Fly with Me. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Fly with Me, then you will enjoy these books:

Unexpecting by Jen Bailey

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Wednesday Books

Date of publication: August 22nd, 2023

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBT, Fiction, Queer, Romance, Realistic Fiction, Contemporary Romance, High School, Young Adult Romance

Purchase Links: Kindle | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

Juno meets Heartstopper in this poignant and emotional story about found family, what it means to be a parent, and falling in love.

Benjamin Morrison is about to start junior year of high school and while his family is challenging, he is pretty content with his life, with his two best friends, and being a part of the robotics club. Until an experiment at science camp has completely unexpected consequences.

He is going to be a father. Something his mother was not expecting after he came out as gay and she certainly wasn’t expecting that he would want to raise the baby as a single father. But together they come up with a plan to prepare Ben for fatherhood and fight for his rights.

The weight of Ben’s decision presses down on him. He’s always tired, his grades fall, and tension rises between his mom and stepfather. He’s letting down his friends in the robotics club whose future hinges on his expertise. If it wasn’t for his renewed friendship (and maybe more) with a boy from his past, he wouldn’t be able to face the daily ridicule at school or the crumbling relationship with his best friends.

With every new challenge, every new sacrifice he has to make, Ben questions his choice. He’s lived with a void in his heart where a father’s presence should have been, and the fear of putting his own child through that keeps him clinging to his decision. When the baby might be in danger, Ben’s faced with a heart wrenching realization: sometimes being a parent means making the hard choices even if they are the choices you don’t want to make…

First Line:

“Mom, there’s something I need to tell you.”

Unexpecting by Jen Bailey

Having come out to his mother a couple of months previously, Benjamin never imagined that he would be sitting her down and telling her that he got someone pregnant. Even more so, he never thought he would tell her that the girl was his best friend, Maxie, or that he slept with Maxie to ensure he was gay while away at science camp. Having grown up with a revolving door of stepfathers, Benjamin wants to ensure that his child never experiences that, so he decides to raise the baby as a single father. But Benjamin doesn’t expect how hard it is and the sacrifices he will have to make. As complications arise with the pregnancy, school, and friendships, Benjamin realizes that something has to give. Will Benjamin do the right thing?

When I read the blurb for Unexpecting, it got my attention. The more I thought about it, the more interested I got. Since Unexpecting was a Read Now from St. Martin’s Press, I downloaded it. I am glad that I read it because it was a good book. It’s not great because of things I will review, but it’s good.

Unexpecting is a medium to fast-paced book set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The pacing went well with the storyline. The author sped up or slowed down the speed when it needed it. I also did not have to go back and reread chapters/previous paragraphs, which was a big thing for me.

The main storyline in Unexpecting centers around Benjamin, the pregnancy, and its fallout. The storyline was well-written, and the characters were true to life. But, and I stress, there were some things that I wished were in it. As weird as this sounds, I wish it was a dual POV. I would have loved to have read Maxie’s perspective on the pregnancy and Ben’s demands. I also wish that the author was more explicit about Ben being neurodivergent. As the parent of two neurodivergent teenagers, I picked up on Ben’s mannerisms right from the beginning. But other people might not, which could lead to readers needing clarification about his actions and reactions.

The storyline with Ben, Maxie, and the pregnancy brought back some memories. Why? My best friend got pregnant at 16 and had the baby at 17. The ridicule and name-calling hinted at in the book were in full force with her. So, I sympathized with Maxie. I also sympathized with Ben. How the parents reacted were opposite ends of the spectrum (Maxie’s parents were extreme, and Ben’s wasn’t), but again, it was realistic. How this storyline ended up was very real, as well.

Ben was a hot mess for almost the whole book. As I stated above, he was neurodivergent (he shares many similarities with my high-functioning son). That was one of the reasons he was so focused on raising the baby alone and why he didn’t even think to ask how Maxie felt about it until halfway through the book. I did like how I could see the change in his thinking as the pregnancy progressed. I figured out what would happen during a specific scene in Grecos. But it was still heartwarming to read that scene and the ending scene.

I felt awful for Maxie. No one asked what she wanted. Instead, her parents shamed and punished her, and then she was forced to watch Ben battle her parents. I can’t even begin to understand the stress she was under. I do think it factored into her pre-eclampsia. I got teary-eyed at the end when she and Ben had that conversation.

The romance angle of the book was very subtle. While I say it coming from a mile away, I am glad the author didn’t go overboard. Instead, she made Gio more of a support person for Ben than a would-be boyfriend. I enjoyed that and watching their relationship morph into something more.

I want to complain about Ben’s mother and Maxie’s parents briefly. I firmly believe that Ben’s mother was cheating on her husband with her ex-husband, but she stopped when confronted. I also find it problematic that she didn’t know Ben’s emotional issues because of having no father. As a guidance counselor, she is trained for that. As for Maxie’s parents, they had every right to be angry with Ben. But I wouldn’t say I liked how they treated Maxie. All I could think of when reading how they treated her was the scene in GoT where Ceresi walked through the streets of Kings Landing with the nun in front of her yelling, “Shame, Shame.” It is a little extreme, but still. Also, I didn’t particularly appreciate how they did their best to keep Ben out of the loop. From her father having words with a sixteen-year-old (real man there) to her mother just being nasty to him, it was sad.

The end of Unexpecting was bittersweet. I liked that Ben did the right thing but wondered what could have happened.

I would recommend Unexpecting to anyone over 16. There are no sexual situations, mild violence, or language. There is bigotry and implied slut shaming at various points in the book.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, Wednesday Books, NetGalley, and Jen Bailey for allowing me to read and review Unexpecting. All opinions stated in this book are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Unexpecting, then you will enjoy reading these:

The One That Got Away by Charlotte Rixon

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Date of Publication: August 15th, 2023

Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Fiction, Adult, Chick Lit, Contemporary Romance, Adult Fiction, Womens Fiction

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

Two years together.
Twenty years apart.
One day to change their story.

2000. Benjamin’s world is turned upside down the night he meets Clara. Instinctively, he knows that they are meant for each other, but a devastating mistake on their last night at university will take their lives in very different directions.

20 years later, Clara has a high-profile job and a handsome husband. But despite the trappings of success, she isn’t happy, and she knows that a piece of her heart still belongs to Benjamin, the boy she fell in love with years earlier. The boy whose life she fears she ruined.

When a bombing is reported in the city where they first met, Clara is pulled back to a place she tries not to remember and the first love she could never forget. Searching for Benjamin, Clara is forced to confront the events that tore them apart. But is it too late to put right what went wrong?

Across the miles and spanning decades, Charlotte Rixon’s The One That Got Away is a sweeping, poignant story about growing up, growing apart, the people who first steal our hearts, and the surprising, winding roads that love can take us on, for readers of Jill Santopolo, Rosie Walsh, and Colleen Hoover.

First Line:

It’s a hotter day than anyone anticipated for April and he’s sweating, but not just because of the heat.

The One That Got Away by Charlotte Rixon

When Benjamin met Clara at university, he knew she was the one. But, two years into their relationship, they are forced apart by a horrible and devastating mistake. That mistake takes Clara and Benjamin in different directions. Fast forward twenty years later, Clara, a successful journalist in an unhappy marriage, is shocked to hear about a bombing in the city where she and Benjamin first met. Rushing to the city, Clara doesn’t know if he is dead, alive, or injured. Will Clara find Benjamin? What happened that night twenty years ago? And who is the bomber, and why did that person target the football (soccer for Americans) stadium?

When I read the blurb for The One That Got Away, I was mildly intrigued. I like books that span decades, and I also like when those books are recent with characters around my age. That is why I decided to accept the St. Martin’s Press widget. But now that I have read it, I am very unimpressed.

The One That Got Away is a medium-paced book that is set in the city of Newcastle in, England. The storyline for this book moved slowly. That slowness kept making me lose interest, and I had to force myself to keep reading.

The storyline of The One That Got Away is centered around Clara and Benjamin. This storyline was chaotic. It was a dual POV storyline (Clara and Benjamin). That is not what bothered me. The author did clearly label the chapters. What bothered me was that it ping-ponged back and forth in time. One chapter would be in the early 2000s, the next in 2023, then the 2010s, and so on. I couldn’t get a handle on anything happening.

I couldn’t stand Clara. When she was first introduced, I thought she was a little immature but chalked it up to her age. But, as the author continued with the book, I disliked her. She came across, even in her 40s, as immature and selfish. She constantly lied to herself, her friends, husband, and Benjamin. She ruined the book for me.

On the flip side, I liked Benjamin. He got the short end of the stick when it came to Clara. I also felt he was made so oblivious by love that he was willing to overlook her behavior. When the mistake happened, and Clara cut ties with him, I pitied him. But, in a way, his life turned out so much better than Clara’s. My only fault with him is that he didn’t push Aiden after the party, and something was clearly wrong.

This book’s storylines with Benjamin and Clara are so chaotic that I will not start explaining or unraveling it. I found some more well-written than others. I also wish the mistake had been revealed sooner in the book instead of being talked about and around.

The bombing storyline was maybe the only straightforward one in the book, and it shocked me. I was wrong about who I thought it was. I also was heartbroken over why that person chose to do what they did. Looking back, it made sense. I just wished that Aiden had told someone sooner.

The end of The One That Got Away was a HEA. Clara was finally living her best life after cutting some dead weight out. I disagreed with the romantic angle, but hey, good for them. I also loved seeing how Aiden turned out!!

I would recommend The One That Got Away to anyone over 21. There is language, nongraphic sexual situations, and violence. There are references to childhood sexual abuse, alcoholism, child abandonment, cheating, and attempted rape.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, NetGalley, and Charlotte Rixon for allowing me to read and review The One That Got Away. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books like The One That Got Away, then you will enjoy these books:

Sammy Espinoza’s Last Review by Tehlor Kay Meija

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Dell

Date of publication: July 18th, 2023

Genre: Romance, LGBT, Queer, Adult, Contemporary, Fiction, Gay, Music, Contemporary Romance, Lesbian

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

A music critic stuck in a spiral of epic proportions targets her teenage crush for a career comeback and a chance at revenge. What could possibly go wrong?

Sammy Espinoza’s life is a raging dumpster fire. Her desperate attempt to win back her singer ex-girlfriend has landed her in hot water at work, and she has one last chance before her editor cuts her column. Luckily, Sammy has a plan to redeem herself, but it won’t be easy.

Rumor has it that Max Ryan, the former rock god, is secretly recording his first-ever solo album years after he dramatically quit performing. And it just so happens that he and Sammy have Right before Max got his big break, he and Sammy spent an unforgettable night together.

Exclusive access to Max’s new music would guarantee Sammy’s professional comeback and, even better, give her the opportunity to serve some long-awaited revenge for his traumatic ghosting.

But Max lives in Ridley Falls, Washington, and Sammy has history there as a family that never wanted her and a million unanswered questions. Going back would mean confronting it all—but what else does she have to lose?

First Line:

People like to say you can’t go home again, but for me that’s more than a literal statement than a figurative one.

Sammy Espinoza’s Last Review by Tehlor Kay Meija

Sammy Espinoza’s life is a mess. An attempt to win back her singer ex-girlfriend exploded in her face. The fallout resulted in her being on probation with the threat of her editor pulling her column unless she could redeem herself. And Sammy does plan on redeeming herself. She had just discovered that Max Ryan, a former rockstar and former one-night stand who ghosted her, might be recording his first solo album. If she can get an interview and an inside scoop about his music, she will be redeemed and forgiven. But Max lives in Ridley Falls, Washington, and Sammy doesn’t want to go back. That would mean facing her estranged family and getting answers to questions that she has had for a long time.

When I read the blurb for Sammy Espinoza (I am shortening the title for this review), I knew I wanted to read it. I have a soft spot for damaged heroines, and I love to read about what caused the damage. I decided to wish on it since it wasn’t available on Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine’s NetGalley page. When I got the email that the publisher granted my wish, I was pretty pleased. This book has stuck around in my mind since I had wished for it. And guess what? I am glad that I read this book.

Sammy Espinoza is a fast-paced book set in the fictional town of Ridley Falls, Washington. The pacing for this book was perfect for it. I had no issue following the storyline, and there were zero times I had to backtrack. There was a tiny bit of lag in the middle of the book when Sammy was floating around Ridley Falls, but that didn’t disrupt my reading experience.

I will warn you; you will need Kleenex while reading this book. You will cry because the storyline will have you in emotional knots. Sammy’s issues constitute a significant part of the storyline. It was painful to read in portions (her mother had me seeing red) and, in other parts, joyful and hopeful.

I didn’t like Sammy at the beginning of the book. She was a hot mess. Her character was selfish, childish, and had a massive chip on her shoulder. After cementing that in my head, the author then went on to show the Sammy behind all of that. The real Sammy was insecure, scarred by her childhood, and desperately wanted to be loved. Then that Sammy slowly (it was painful to read at times) morphed into the Sammy I loved. She was a self-confident woman who was happy and surrounded herself with a family she chose.

I wasn’t too sure what to think about Max. He seemed like such a nice guy, but something was also tortured about him. I figured it was part of his act until he saw Sammy after he ghosted her. Then, a side of Max that I didn’t even think existed emerged. I sympathized with him and didn’t blame him for doing what he did after Sammy told him about what she wanted to do.

The secondary characters were the backbone of this book. Sammy had a fantastic friends with Willa and Brooke. Brooke made me laugh. She was blunt and didn’t deal with Sammy’s (or Willa’s) BS. Willa’s parents were characters. And Sammy’s grandmother was just fantastic.

The storyline involving Sammy, her mother, and her father’s side of the family was heartbreaking and infuriating. I got so mad for Sammy as the storyline went on, and it slowly revealed what a jerk and how self-centered her mother was. There was a scene with Willa’s mother and one with Sammy’s grandmother that broke my heart. Sammy’s issues (well, a good part of them) could have been resolved if her mother had done the right thing. I won’t get into that storyline anymore because there will be spoilers.

The storyline involving Sammy, Max, and the article made me irritated. Sammy should have been upfront with Max about why she came to Ridley Falls. But, at the same time, Max should have been upfront with Sammy about his issues and past. But it doesn’t excuse him for just jetting on her. Especially when something very significant happened, and she was left alone.

The end of Sammy Espinonza was perfect. It also gave me one of my favorite quotes, “Three Queers and a Baby.” I did get a giggle out of that. I also liked how hopeful the last chapter was. It made me happy for Sammy and her crew.

I would recommend Sammy Espinoza’s Last Review to anyone over 21. There is language, mild violence, and sexual situations.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Dell, NetGalley, and Tehlor Kay Mejia for allowing me to read and review Sammy Espinozia’s Last Review. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoyed reading this review of Sammy Espinoza’s Last Review, then you will enjoy reading these books:

Other books by Tehlor Kay Meija

Play to Win by Jodie Slaughter

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin

Date of publication: July 11th, 2023

Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Contemporary Romance, Fiction, LGBT, Adult Fiction

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N |AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

Jodie Slaughter’s latest rom-com, Play to Win , is a sizzling romance where a winning lottery ticket is meant to be a new start but instead becomes a second chance at love.

Miriam Butler’s life is going nowhere in the slowest, most excruciating way possible. Stuck in the same barely-paying job she’s had since she was sixteen and spending every night sleeping in the spare twin bed in her mother’s house, her existence might be hilarious if it wasn’t so bleak. One trip to her favorite corner store upends everything when she finds herself the winner of a Mega Millions Lottery Jackpot. Unfortunately, not even life-altering roses come without their painful thorns. Hers just so happen to be in the form of an estranged husband who has the right to claim his share of her money.

It’s been eight years since Leo Vaughn has had a conversation with his wife. When she calls out of the blue, practically begging him to come back to Greenbelt, the last thing he expects her to tell him when he gets there is that she’s come into a whole heap of money. She offers him a life-changing proposition of his own. Take a lump sum, finally sign the divorce papers, and be done with her for good. Only, a forever without her is the last thing Leo wants. So he gives a proposition of his own. One that won’t cost her nearly as many millions, but will buy him the time to do the one thing he’s been hungry to do since he left — win her back.

First Line:

Digging a hole was not nearly as easy as it looked on TV. First off, shovels were heavy. Second, South Carolina dirt seemed to be as hard as her mama always said her head was.

Play to Win by Jodie Slaughter

Miriam is stuck in a rut and can’t seem to get out of it. Living at home with her mother and working the same job that barely pays her bills, her life doesn’t seem that great. That is until she stops at the corner store she usually frequents and, on a whim, plays a Mega Millions lottery ticket. That lottery ticket is the sole winner of the jackpot—over $200 million. Overnight, Miriam’s life is changed. But there is a downside to her winnings. Miriam finds out that her ex-husband (never divorced) is legally entitled to a portion of her winnings—if he doesn’t accept the offer of a divorce and a legally binding document with a payoff. When Miriam calls Leo (her ex) and asks him to come home, he is curious. They haven’t spoken in eight years. When Miriam presents Leo with the divorce papers, he counters with another offer. Let him win her back and use the money she would have given him to help out members of his family that need it. But Miriam is still hurt over Leo leaving and hesitates to let him back in. Will Leo be able to win Miriam back? Or will he have to sign the divorce papers and let the love of his life go?

Play to Win was several rom-coms on a limited time Read Now on St. Martin’s Press NetGalley page. Unlike the cozy mysteries I downloaded earlier this year, I read the blurbs before deciding to read them. This book’s blurb caught my attention because, in a way, it reflected my life. So, I downloaded it. Also, what figured into my decision was that I wanted to know what Miriam would do with the money she won. I am glad I read it because this was a sweet book.

Play to Win had a medium-to-fast storyline. The pacing of this storyline did fit it. The author was able to zip through some of the background noise and keep me focused on the storyline. Also, there was no lag in this book, which I appreciated.

Play to Win takes place in the fictional town of Greenbelt, South Carolina. This town is a small town with all of the small-town trappings. Everyone was in everyone else’s business. What I liked is that the author chose to showcase this but keep it in the background. But, on the same page, because it was a small town, I was surprised that Miriam could keep her lottery-winning under wraps.

The main storyline of Play to Win centers on Miriam, her winning the lottery, Leo, his attempts to win her back, and what she does with the money. It was a well-written storyline that kept me glued to the book. I became invested in the plotline and the characters. I am hoping that the author does another book in this universe!!

I was surprised by how much I connected with Miriam and loved watching her character grow throughout the book. She came across, at first, as a bit prickly, but as the book went on, that went away. Her astonishment over winning the lottery was perfect, and I loved how she was paying it forward. I did get a little irritated with how she treated Leo. But, there was no background about their relationship until well past the middle of the book (but not quite at the end). I wouldn’t have been so grumpy with her actions if it had been given earlier. Because once it was explained, I was furious on her behalf.

I liked Leo, but I felt he laid it on too thick with Miriam once he was back in Greenbelt. I understood why he was doing it, but at the same time, I was like, “Back off.” His past actions were directly influencing how Miriam felt about him. Once the author explained what happened, I was so mad at him. He took the coward’s way out. But, the good thing is that he understood what he did was wrong, that his way of thinking might be a little outdated, and that he was willing to do whatever it took to make it up to Miriam.

The romance angle of Play to Win was well written. The author did a great job with the second-chance romance trope. I loved that Miriam wasn’t easily won over and that Leo had to work to regain her trust. Also, he had to go through her friends and mother to romance her. That scene with Miriam’s mother (in the church basement) was pure gold. While I knew this was a romance, and there would be a happy ending, there was a point in the book where I didn’t think it would happen. And that, my friends, is one of the many things that made this book for me.

Miriam and Leo had insane chemistry, and I was waiting for it to combust. The author took her sweet time having them get together. The sex scenes were hot but graphic. I liked that the author was picky about when Miriam and Leo would have sex. It was a couple of times before they got back together, and once at the end of the book.

The end of Play to Win was everything I hoped and wanted it to be. I liked seeing Leo and Miriam get their happy ending. The author was able to wrap up all the storylines in a way that satisfied me. I smiled when I stopped reading, and I typically don’t do that.

I recommend Play to Win to anyone over 21. There is graphic sex, language, and mild violence.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin, NetGalley, and Jodie Slaughter for allowing me to read and review Play to Win. All opinions expressed in this review are mine.

If you enjoyed reading this review of Play to Win, then you will enjoy reading these books:

Other books by Jodie Slaughter:

Hello Stranger by Katherine Center

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Date of publication: July 11th, 2023

Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Fiction, Contemporary Romance, Womens Fiction, Adult, Adult Fiction

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | IndieBound | Indigo

Goodreads Synopsis:

Sadie Montogmery has had good breaks and bad breaks in her life, but as a struggling artist, all she needs is one lucky break. Things seem to be going her way when she lands one of the coveted finalist spots in a portrait competition. It happens to coincide with a surgery she needs to have. Minor, they say. Less than a week in the hospital they say. Nothing about you will change, they say. Upon recovery, it begins to dawn on Sadie that she can see everything around her, but she can no longer see faces.

Temporary, they say. Lots of people deal with this, they say. As she struggles to cope―and hang onto her artistic dreams―she finds solace in her fourteen-year-old dog, Peanut. Thankfully, she can still see animal faces. When Peanut gets sick, she rushes him to the emergency vet nearby. That’s when she meets veterinarian Dr. Addison. And she’s pleasantly surprised when he asks her on a date. But she doesn’t want anyone to know about her face blindness. Least of all Joe, her obnoxious neighbor who always wears a bowling jacket and seems to know everyone in the building. He’s always there at the most embarrassing but convenient times, and soon, they develop a sort of friendship. But could it be something more?

As Sadie tries to save her career, confront her haunting past, and handle falling in love with two different guys she realizes that happiness can be found in the places―and people― you least expect.

First Line:

The first person I called after I found out I’d placed in the North American Portrait Society’s huge career-making yearly contest was my dad.

Hello Stranger by Katherine Center

I am a vast Katherine Center fan. I have read almost all of her books and have loved them. So, when the publisher sent me an email inviting me to review Hello Stranger, I immediately accepted. And guess what? I loved it. I loved it so much that I gave it a rare 5-star review. This book did everything. It made me laugh and cry, and more importantly, it allowed me to connect with the characters.

Hello Stranger is a fast-paced book that takes place entirely in Houston, Texas. Almost all of Katherine Center’s takes place there, and I feel that she makes Houston an exciting place to live.

The plotline for Hello Stranger was unique. Before this book, I think I had only heard of face blindness mentioned on TV. And even then, I thought it was something the author made up. So, reading about it in this book (and googling it on my phone) made it fascinating.

Sadie is a struggling portrait artist living in a hovel on the roof of her best friend’s parent’s building. When a near accident reveals that she has a condition called cavernoma that requires immediate brain surgery, she declines. Earlier that day, Sadie had found out she had placed in a yearly contest that could be huge. But, given no choice (her mother died of the same thing), Sadie undergoes surgery only to discover that she has face blindness (prosopagnosia). To a portrait artist, this is career-ending, but Sadie decides to make the most of it. During this same time, she meets an enigmatic veterinarian when Peanut, her dog, suddenly gets sick. She also meets Joe, a resident in the building she lives in, who is happy to help Sadie when she needs it. Not disclosing her condition to them, Sadie starts dating and falling in love with both. With a deadline approaching and trying to choose between two men, Sadie must make a choice. Along the way, she also comes to terms with her estranged family and their choices. Can Sadie reconcile with her family? Who will she choose? Will she let Joe and the veterinarian know about her face blindness? And what about the contest? What sort of portrait will she paint?

The characters in Hello Stranger were well-written and wonderfully three-dimensional. Initially, I was not too fond of a couple of characters, but I liked them at the book’s end. The only character I consistently did not like was Parker. There was a particular sort of evilness to her, and it only amped up as the book went on.

  • Sadie—I loved her. She was one of the more authentic characters I have read in a book. She made me laugh (I annoyed my husband with the giggling I was doing), and she made me cry. But mostly laugh. I loved how she adapted to face blindness and used it in her art. I also loved how she was with Joe. I understood why she was so upset with her family, too. If I had been treated that way (being sent away to a special school for something that wasn’t even her fault), I would have had zero contact with them. It showed how forgiving (well, in a way, forgiving) she was. And I got her frustration with Parker. I wanted to punch that woman’s face (and I am not a violent person). She did some and said some unforgivable things to Sadie throughout the book.
  • Joe—Ok, so when I read that conversation that he was having about the overweight women who sat on his face and wouldn’t leave, I thought the same thing as Sadie. But, as I got to know him through the book, I started to like him. I thought he was good for Sadie. He even offered to help her with her portrait, which got pretty steamy for a minute. Then a lightbulb went off. I’m not going to say what, but I will say that it must have been confusing to him during a specific scene. I didn’t blame him for being angry.

Hello Stranger fits perfectly into the romance genre. I liked that the author took a more gradual approach to Sadie and Joe’s romance. There was no Instalove. Sadie didn’t like Joe because of the conversation I mentioned above. But, once the friendship turned to romance, it was awesome. What I also liked about this book is the author didn’t even mention that sex. Instead, the author had Sadie and Joe kiss a couple of times (and it was super hot), and the author kept it at that.

The storyline with Sadie, the contest, and her face blindness was well-written and well-researched. I loved seeing how Sadie tried to identify people (gait, hair, voice, personality). I also liked how the author incorporated it into the contest. I am not an artist (not even close to it) and had no clue how an artist with face blindness would use a grid to help paint people. But the author explained that (and I did a little research on my own).

The storyline with Sadie and her family was heartbreaking. It also made me extremely mad at her father and stepmother. I know her stepmother was trying to help during the book (and she did get brownie points for the dress) but believing Parker over Sadie was wrong. When overhearing what that witch said to her at the contest and what she did, I was furious for Sadie. I cried angry tears for her. Thankfully Sadie’s dad did hear and did try to set things right, but still. I had steam coming out of my ears. I hope Parker gets help (it sounds like she needs it).

The storyline with Sadie, Joe, and the veterinarian made me laugh. I figured everything out fairly early in the book. But it was fun to watch Sadie try to juggle two men. I winced during the breakup scene, and I felt so bad when Joe flipped out on Sadie. I 100% understood Joe’s anger and confusion (I would have been confused too). I did say (out loud), “This is why you tell people you have face blindness.

The end of Hello Stranger was what I expected it to be. Sadie and Joe got their HEA. But, more importantly, other things were also on the way to being healed. I was sad when the book ended because I wanted to see where Joe and Sadie were in 5 years.

I recommend Hello Stranger to anyone over 16. There is no sex (a couple of kissing scenes), mild language, and very mild violence.

I want to thank Saint Martin’s Press and Katherine Center for allowing me to read and review Hello Stranger. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you liked reading Hello Stranger, you will enjoy these books:

Will They or Won’t They by Ava Wilder

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Dell

Date of Publication: June 27th, 2023

Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Adult, Contemporary Romance, Fiction, Chick Lit, Adult Fiction

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

On screen, they’re in love. Off screen, they can’t stand each other. Two co-stars with a complex history reunite to film the final season of a beloved paranormal drama in this tension-filled will they won’t they romance from the author of How to Fake It in Hollywood.

Lilah Hunter and Shane McCarthy are madly in love— at least, their characters are. As the stars of the hit paranormal TV show Intangible, they spent years pining for each other on-screen… until Lilah ditched the show at the end of season five in hopes of becoming a film star. With no such luck, she’s back to film the much-hyped ninth and final season, in which their characters will get together at last.

But coming back means facing one of the biggest reasons she left: Shane. Ever since their secret behind-the-scenes fling imploded at the end of the first season, the two of them have despised each other.

Now back on set together for the first time in years, with the world’s eyes on them and their post-show careers on the line, they’ll have to grit their teeth and play nice. But under pressure to give Intangible’s fans the happy ending they’ve been waiting for, Lilah and Shane are forced to get closer than ever. And if they’re not careful, they just might get blindsided by one final twist: a real-life happy ending of their own.

First Line:

Lilah Hunter knew better than to get her hopes up.

Will They or Won’t They by Ava Wilder

Lilah and Shane play a madly in love, but kept apart, couple on the hit paranormal show, Intangilble. In real life, though, they loathe each other. So, it was a good thing when Lilah left the show to make a movie and see what else was out there. But the film was a flop, and Lilah wasn’t getting any work because of it. So, when the producers approached Lilah with an offer to return to the show, she wouldn’t turn it down, even if that meant working with Shane again. But Lilah and Shane realize that maybe their hatred towards each other was more than that (thanks to a risque photo shoot). What will they do? Will they give in to their feelings? Or won’t they?

When I wished for Will They or Won’t They, I was on a huge contemporary romance kick. I hoped I liked the book because the blurb seemed rather bland. Unfortunately, I feel the same way now that I have read the book. This book didn’t create any strong feelings for it either way.

The medium pacing of Will They or Won’t They did suit the book. This pacing allowed Lilah and Shane to recount their past relationship (working and personal) on their own and with the therapist. There was some lag toward the end of the book, but since it was the end, it didn’t affect anything for me.

Will They or Won’t They takes place mainly in Hollywood, with a brief scene in New York City and a chapter in Canada. I was disappointed that the author mostly kept to where the show was filmed, convention centers and hotel rooms. I would have loved to see more of those cities and where they filmed in Canada.

The main storyline in Will They or Won’t They are Lilah and Shane’s love/hate/love relationship. The author did a great job of giving Lilah and Shane’s backstories in a way that didn’t seem forced. I could see a behind-the-scenes romance blowing up and causing issues. I could also see a producer wanting his main stars to get along and send them to couples therapy. But, once the book started focusing on the present day, I began to feel “meh” about it. The storyline seemed to be Lilah and Shane rehashing stuff from their past. Also, I wasn’t a massive fan of how their romance ping-ponged back and forth.

I didn’t care for Lilah. She came across as a neurotic pain in the butt who was also a bit of a diva. She self-sabotages almost every relationship she has had (and she admits this at one point in the book). But, at the same time, I felt terrible for her. Growing up, she had a horrible home life that caused her severe anxiety. Her mother got her into acting to overcome it, and things took off. I also felt how she treated Shane was pretty crappy, both past and present. Now, he was no angle, but she took it to another level.

I had no real concrete feelings for Shane. For most of the book, he came across as bland. He went out of his way to needle Lilah (the whole donut scene at the beginning of the book stands out the most to me). I did guess what his real feelings were reasonably early in the book and guessed what he would do with those feelings.

The romance angle of Will They or Won’t They bored me. While I like secret romances, I wasn’t a huge fan of theirs. How can a relationship flourish if they never go out together and always have sex? It can’t, and in the long run, if this were real, I would say they didn’t have a chance long term.

The end of Will They or Won’t They was pretty standard. The author surprised me with a twist towards the end of the book. The author explained the twist in the epilogue, and I was back to feeling “meh” about the characters.

I would recommend Will They or Won’t They to anyone over 21. There is language, mild violence, and sexual situations.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Dell, NetGalley, and Ava Wilder for allowing me to read and review Will They or Won’t They. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoyed reading this review of Will They or Won’t They, then will you will enjoy reading these books:

Other books by Ava Wilder:

The Book Proposal by KJ Micciche

Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca

Date of publication: May 16th, 2023

Genre: Romance, Fiction, Contemporary Romance, Adult Fiction, Books About Books, Love, Chick Lit

Trigger Warnings: Cheating (off-page), STD (off-page)

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:


Broke up with, broke, and with a vicious case of writer’s block, romance writer Gracie Landing is a hot mess. She can hardly be blamed for drinking one (or a few) too many cocktails when out with her besties in an attempt to cheer herself up. Sometime in the foggy wee hours, she recklessly emails her unrequited high-school crush, Colin Yarmouth, who is now a successful attorney harboring regrets of his own. When she receives an intriguingly friendly (not to say flirty) response, her acute embarrassment is overcome only by her fervent curiosity―what would a hottie like Colin be like as a grown up? The two forge an unlikely friendship that’s unmistakably headed for more. Colin’s tales of his own woeful break-up become fodder for Gracie’s fertile imagination and her current work-in-progress takes off. With the deadline looming and her checking account dwindling, Gracie has no idea that borrowing Colin’s story could wreak havoc on her life, her career, and her own chance at happily-ever-after…

First Line:

Some things never cease to amaze me. Like the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. Or the way a good cup of coffee can take the chill out on an early autumn morning.

The Book Proposal by KJ Micciche

Gracie Landing has had a heck of a year. Her fiancee was boinking the wedding planner and knocked her up, she is broke, and she is suffering from writer’s block. So when her best friends took her out to cheer her up, she got blitzed. Instead of drunk texting her ex, Gracie drunk emails her high school crush, Colin Yarmouth. Colin, who is going through some issues, is shocked when Gracie emails him. He is also intrigued. His reply to her email snowballs to them emailing and texting daily. When Colin shares his unhappily ever after with Gracie, she uses it as the base for a novel (with his permission). Gracie doesn’t know that Colin’s story is about to wreak havoc on all areas of her life. Will Gracie come out the other side of the fallout unscathed? Will she be able to continue having a relationship with Colin? Or is everything over before it had a chance to begin?

I have been reading many books that either feature authors or publishers or are in some way about books. Four of the last six books I have read have been what I stated above. Don’t get me wrong; I am not complaining. I like it when a book centers around a book. That is one of the main reasons I decided to read The Book Proposal.

The Book Proposal is a fast-paced book in Brooklyn and Queens. The pacing was right for this book. With the quick dialogue (Gracie had some epic snapback comebacks), the book would have lost some of its “oomph” for me if it had gone slower. Also, the pace matched the almost frantic pace of the characters’ lives and the city where they lived.

The Book Proposal’s main storyline concerns Gracie, her writer’s block, and her email to Colin. I loved that Gracie was a romance writer that wrote smut. Some of the best lines were when she tried to develop the dialogue between the two characters in her newest book. I was dying laughing while reading. It also made me want to read that book (even if it was fictional). Oh, and let’s not forget the steamy secret admirer letters she wrote to Colin in high school. Again, they were epic.

I wouldn’t say Gracie was a hot mess. At the book’s beginning, she is immature and doesn’t know what she wants. But her character growth (helped by a very steady Colin) was good for a romance. I liked that she became self-aware that she caused her messes. I also liked that she realized she didn’t need a man to make her happy.

Gracie’s drunken email to Colin was epic. I have heard about drunk texting (never done it, my drunken days consisted of drunk dialing, and yes, I am that old), but drunk emailing was another thing. Her email was because she blamed him for the nickname (Elvis) she got in high school. I also liked that the author kept them to email, texts, and eventually seeing each other.

Colin’s backstory was just as bad as Gracie’s. It took a while for Colin to tell Gracie what happened. All I have to say is, “Yikes,” and I didn’t blame him for divorcing his wife. Colin also had his issues, which were centered around his father. Colin’s father was an idiot and a jerk. I loved that he got his comeuppance at the end of the book. He deserved it.

The romance angle was interesting. It’s interesting because it didn’t present as a romance until Gracie and Colin met face to face. Put it this way, if I didn’t know I was reading a romance, I would have figured this book to be a chick lit. But, once the feelings got turned on, they were all in. Of course, as in any romance novel, there are a few detours and roadblocks. I liked that Gracie and Colin (unwillingly on his end) dealt healthily with those detours and roadblocks.

There were a couple of twists to this book that did take me by surprise. One is the connection between Colin, Gracie, and Colin’s ex-wife. I was not expecting that minor storyline to blow up the way it did or its ripple effects (good and bad). The other twist was between Gracie and her ex. Again, I was surprised to see him show up toward the end of the book. But, in this case, I did get a good laugh. All I will say about him showing up is: “You reap what you sow,” and Gracie was lucky to avoid marrying that hot mess.

The end of The Book Proposal had me feeling conflicting emotions. On the one hand, I was mad and sad for Gracie and Colin. But I felt that Gracie did the right thing, and while it felt like she was getting the short end of the stick, she didn’t. On the other hand, I was super happy for Gracie and Colin. I loved that they got their HEA.

I recommend The Book Proposal to anyone over 21. There is language, mild violence, and nongraphic sexual situations. Also, see my trigger warnings at the beginning of the review.

Many thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca, NetGalley, and KJ Micciche for allowing me to read and review The Book Proposal. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

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